ComicsPRO, the direct market’s retailer trade and advocacy group, has released its first official position paper, detailing the group’s desire for positive changes with the solicitation and use of variant covers on comic books.
The opinion paper, which was vetted by ComicsPRO’s position paper committee and then voted on by retailer members, passed with a resounding 90% majority.
"Given the diverse stores, expectations, needs of the individual stores involved, and the overwhelming vote in favor of this position paper, I think it is pretty clear this is an important topic our suppliers should pay close attention to," said Brian Hibbs, owner of San Francisco’s Comix Experience, and chair of the ComicsPRO’s position paper committee.
Carr D’Angelo, owner of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks CA added "Every retailer deals with variant covers in very individual ways. This position paper passed because it asks publishers to operate in a way that allows each retailer to make the choices best for their stores. Divergent points of view came together in one voice and that's what ComicsPRO is all about."
ComicsPRO is comprised of more than 90 member retailers with more than 130 store-fronts in 30 different states. In addition to advocacy, ComicsPRO goals include encouraging the growth of the comics specialty market and reducing the common costs all retailers incur. More information can be found at ComicsPRO.org.
The complete text of the ComicsPRO official position regarding variant covers follows.
Publishers frequently attempt to boost circulation of their comics and graphic novels by printing multiple cover images. While recognizing that multiple covers can be an effective short-term sales boost for publishers and retailers alike, retailers are negatively affected by multiple covers in some circumstances. Since the cover of a comic book or graphic novel is a key sales point, a printing may have very different sell-through rates depending upon the cover image. In many cases, one cover image will remain available for sale at retail while another has sold out. In the current methodology of reordering, retailers are unable to order a single specific cover without ordering superfluous stock because of a 50/50, 3-to-1, or other sales ratio. The current system of offering variant covers without providing a unique identifier for each cover has the propensity to artificially inflate sales numbers of a title while failing to reflect the true sell-through of the given title.
Using variant covers for first printings vs reprints:
ComicsPRO maintains that variant covers of the first printing of products are acceptable so long as each cover offered may be ordered and reordered separately. Implementation of this policy will ensure that retailers can efficiently allocate resources to restock popular cover images without ordering copies of less popular covers. Efficiency inherently leads to a stronger, more competitive and sustainable marketplace.
Offering variant covers of fixed ratio:
ComicsPRO prefers that variant covers be solicited as separate line items to be ordered in any ratio the retailer desires. A cover solicited as a 50/50 split should instead be offered as two separate items. Variants offered on a short-printed cover basis (such as a 1:4 variant) should be solicited on a separate line item even though ordering is dependent on a qualifying order.
The concept of equal ratio offerings should be replaced with split offerings. Unequal ratio offerings should be treated as incentives. This will serve to more accurately reflect the true salability of a title and increase industry efficiency.
Variant covers offered free of charge as purchase incentives should always be listed as separate order line items. These items should also be invoiced independently.
Variant covers and barcodes:
ComicsPRO maintains that each cover of a comic book or trade paperback should be identified with its own unique barcode. The proliferation of point of sale systems within the industry has created a reliance on accurate and complete barcodes for each item. Unique barcodes for each cover allow precise tracking of sales and promotes the accurate calculation of historical sell-through values.
Variant covers can be a valuable strategy to increase short-term profits, but should be implemented in a manner that augments industry efficiency while not increasing publisher revenue at the expense of retailer cash flow. ComicsPRO members prefer to order all products as individual line items. Allowing orders for each cover as a unique line item will enhance our ability to operate effectively and profitably while providing publishers with clear and concise orders for publications that have more than one cover.
Request for Action:
ComicsPRO requests that all publishers offer all variants, limited or otherwise, as separate line item codes in accordance with the foregoing descriptions. This would include any comic, graphic novel, or trade paperback offered with multiple covers regardless of the ratio of publishing or subsequent printings. ComicsPRO also maintains that each cover be issued with a unique barcode.